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Muaz Shabandri and Amira Agarib / 19 November 2012
Debris and charred remains of belongings were all that were left behind as residents stared in shock after a major fire in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Tower area displaced several families from their homes.
Residents of the Tamweel Tower woke up to fire alarms early on Sunday morning as a fire which started on one of the top floors of the building spread to the lower floors and raged for over six hours, sweeping through homes and cars in its wake. Rescue teams evacuated 600 people from 160 flats in the tower.
Three floors were completely destroyed in the fire which covered the east and south side of the tower along with 11 cars parked below the building. Residents from nearby buildings were also evacuated as winds fanned the flames.
“The operation room of Dubai Police received information about the fire and dispatched five fire brigades from Al Barsha, Al Manara, Satwa, Karama, Port Saeed and Rashidya,” confirmed a police official.
A spokesperson from Tamweel confirmed there were no casualties and residents were being provided with alternative accommodation.
Varun Sood, acting chief executive officer of Tamweel said: “Our staff are on site and have provided transportation and hotel accommodation, in coordination with DMCC, to any resident who requires such assistance. We will continue to work with the building’s owners association to assist all residents and we remain fully committed to ensuring their well-being,”
The fire started around 1:30am on Sunday and fire alarms in the Cluster U buildings woke up in the heat of the night.
Danielle Kamar, who lives behind Tamweel Tower had to leave her apartment as part of the safety procedures. “It’s right behind the building I live in so they evacuated us too for
safety reasons. We had to stay outside from 2am when the alarm first went off until 7am when the fire was more contained,” said Danielle.
Several residents took refuge in parking lots as firefighters tried to contain the blaze ravaging through the lower floor. Falling debris made the operation even more difficult as large chunks of the building façade melted and fell on cars parked below, which caught fire.
“From downstairs in Cluster X, we could hear the fire crackling, there were ashes floating everywhere and these huge, flaming chunks falling off the building, starting their own on-ground chaos. Facades of the building were just bursting into flames.”
Eyewitnesses reported seeing damaged cars in the area and another JLT resident Saad Kayyali shared a similar story.
“I went outside my balcony after hearing sirens and I could see yellow reflections. I knew there was something wrong and I immediately came down from my building,” said Saad.
Twitter users were first to break the news as they shared photos of the tower and posted videos on YouTube.
Nabila Usmani (@NabsUsmani) tweeted, “My bldg tamweel towers in JLT dxb caught fire. All of us are safe at a relative’s place. None of us have our phones with us. Don’t worry.”
Nidhi Jha, another eyewitness in the area said: “The police were evacuating people and we could hear fire alarms. A few cars parked below the building had also caught fire.”
Staff of offices and businesses in the area had to make their way through long lines of vehicles that clogged the entire JLT area on Sunday morning.”
Firefighting units managed to bring the fire under control at 8:19am before it spread to nearby buildings. Cooling operations continued during the day as police cordoned off the area and forensic experts examined the site to determine the cause of the fire.
Major-General Khamis Matter Al Mazeina, Deputy Commander in chief of the Dubai Police confirmed no one was injured in the fire and building residents were moved to hotels in the area.
The fire-fighting operation was led by Lt-Colonel Othaman Mohammed Ahli, Director of Al Manara Civil Defence station, and Abdul Rahman bin Shalat, Director of Al Barsha Civil Defence station, in the presence of Major-General Rashid Thani Al Matroushi and Colonel Hamdan Mohammed Al Raisi, Director and Assistant Director, respectively, of the Dubai Civil Defence.
In a show of solidarity and support, several companies in the JLT area have offered to help the fire victims.
Shuja Qadir, owner of Sheikh and Shake, a newly-opened restaurant in JLT, has offered free tea, coffee and internet for the victims. “We are neighbours to these people. People from the Tamweel Building can come and have free tea and coffee at our outlet. They can also charge their mobile phones and laptops and make use of the WiFi facilities for free.”
Another company, Pets in the City, is providing free daycare shelter to pets displaced by the fire in the Tamweel Tower. A store manager confirmed to Khaleej Times, the company was providing care for the pets.
As the fire raged...
Just as I was prepared to go to bed at 2am, my phone began to buzz. It was a friend of mine who stays in Cluster E in Jumeirah Lake Towers calling me to warn me about a fire in the Tamweel Tower, which is not too far from where I stay.
Panicked, I ran out of the house to see if I could possibly be at risk. As I walked by the lake towards the tower, it seemed like all the residents from in and around JLT had come down to witness the horrific fire which had engulfed the roof, and seemed to be slowly eating it up little by little.
It is strange how tragedies bring people together so easily, and I soon got talking to a bunch of people, and we decided to get closer to the action. As we walked along, we saw supermarkets teeming with people buying cigarettes, juices and laban as they lounged around in chairs outside restaurants smoking, watching the action and making videos. By this time, large chunks of debris were falling from the roof, which had caused the side of the building to catch fire, and whatever reached the ground, hit the cars parked below and gutted them in no time. The debris also landed on many balconies, which eventually spread to the insides of the building, worsening the situation. The sound of the fire breaking through the glass was loud now, and at the rate it was spreading, it seemed like it would eat up the building in a matter of hours. By this time, we had reached right in front of the burning Tamweel Tower at the point where the police had cordoned off the area.
This is where all the residents of the tower were taking shelter along with those who had been evacuated from neighbouring towers. There were people howling and screaming watching their homes turn to ash, children sleeping on pavements, a mother holding her baby close and silently weeping, and dogs watching the burning building as listlessly as their owners. There was a family of four — a young couple with two little children aged 3 and 5 standing next to us, as well. “By the time the fire alarm went off, we could already see the fire from our balcony, and we just had enough to time to grab the kids, our passports and run. We had to run down 24 flights of stairs, and thankfully since we were one of the first people to leave, we didn’t have to deal with the crowd.
There were people running down half-clothed, clutching on to their kids, spouses or passports, and madly dashing down. You see that house burning on the corner of the 24th floor — that is our home. The balcony attached to the bedroom....” Neena trailed off. We got talking to one of the cops, who told us the firemen were working to douse the damage from the inside.
The fire, by this time, was creeping to the other side of the building, with a fresh batch of debris falling on to balconies and cars causing more damage. The water that was being hosed from the buildings nearby did help a little, but since it was beginning to get a little windy, residents from the other buildings started getting jittery.
“We’ve been living here since two years,” said Anu, who was seated on a bench with her husband and father-in-law. “We stay on the top floors, as well, very close to where the fire is now, and praying nothing happens. We’ve been sitting here since 1am, with nowhere to go,” she said.
By this time, it was 5am, and situation was far from getting solved. The couple we were standing with said they would much rather go to their relatives’ homes than watch their lives go up in smoke. That is when rumours started doing the rounds. Some said the fire was caused by a fire leak, some said it was due to a candle left too long in the penthouse, and then there was one, according to which the resident of the penthouse claimed he had Dh5m in cash at home that he demanded to be compensated for.
As the sun slowly began to rise, a lot of people who had come to watch had left, but there were some still sitting, hoping to have something left to hold on to, while the fire raged on. At around 7, when the situation was finally under control, after almost five hours since the fire had first started, I started to return home. And at that point I realised that my life would get back to normal in a couple of hours, while for those whose homes burnt down, it would take months or maybe years, before they can cover the damage caused.
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